From signet rings to dress sets, jewellery for men goes back a long way. The pharaohs used rings with their official seal as an authentication tool, while Renaissance paintings like Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII show off a man’s affluence with elaborate accessories.
Men have also worn brooches with crossed oars to indicate their affiliation as rowers; tennis racquets, croquet, hockey sticks and even skating mementos all found their way onto ties and cravats.
Victorian jewellery tended towards the flamboyant but there was still a restraint in its design. A well-dressed gentleman was expected to wear only a few jewelry pieces which had a purpose such as cufflinks, tie pins and watch chains.
Men’s accessories were often adorned with a theme of sport or hunting. A gold-headed cane, or ‘bicorne,’ with an engraved scene of a hunt was one example. Stick pins, or cravat and scarf pins, were also popular during this time. These rod-like pins up to three inches long had a decorative element perched at the end and were used to help secure a scarves, ascots or cravat.
As interest in Ancient sites grew, Victorian designers started to imitate Egyptian, Etruscan and Renaissance designs. These motifs were incorporated into men’s jewelry such as rings, necklaces and bracelets. Black onyx (symbolizing grief) and jet were popular choices for men’s rings as were dragonflies, flowers, snakes and bows which all had sentimental meanings.
As with all antique jewelry, hallmarks can provide valuable information such as the type of metal and the year of manufacture. They also indicate whether the piece is genuine or a reproduction. As a general rule, reproductions are made of sterling silver and gold which means they will look similar to the originals but are not as costly.
Although today’s men tend to favour simple, functional jewellery like cufflinks and watches, antique men’s jewellery is more elaborate than ever. From the time of its origins, jewellery has been a symbol of status and power. The Victorian and Edwardian eras were no exception.
The Edwardian period – named after English King Edward VII – ran from 1901 to 1910. The era is best known for the elegance and sophistication of men’s fashion. It also marks the first time that platinum was crafted into men’s jewellery on its own, a trend that continued throughout the Art Deco era.
Edwardian style is characterized by flowing, graceful lines and elegant, intricate designs. A popular motif is lace-like patterns, ribbons, garlands, and loops. Fine millegrain borders and pierced patterns reminiscent of floral motifs are also common. Diamonds remain a popular choice, as do colored gems that complement the platinum.
While the Edwardian and Art Deco eras share many characteristics, it’s important to distinguish between them. Rings from the Art Deco era are far less fluid than their Edwardian counterparts, and they feature more severe lines and angles. The Art Deco style is a departure from the organic, flowery, and draping themes of the Edwardian era. Click here to learn more about the difference between Art Deco and Edwardian styles.
World War I
A growing sense of disillusionment with decadent styles of the turn of the century led to a move toward simpler forms. A growing interest in natural history and botanical motifs also contributed to a more organic approach to jewellery design – often using clearly recognisable flowers and fruit, as shown by this large spray of floral shaped gold diamond set pendant (marked ’14k’). The rise of industrial manufacturing techniques led to more efficient methods for producing high-quality pieces of jewellery. This was reflected in the new styles of Art Deco jewellery, which blended the artistic freedom of the earlier Arts and Crafts Movement with more geometric forms.
A new interest in archaeology and historicism led to jewellers experimenting with ancient styles. This new style was also influenced by the increasing importance of religious symbols and earthly power, which were reflected in the many large statement rings.
Tie pins were increasingly popular, worn to keep the silky folds of cravats and neckties in place, as well as for accessorising hats and cufflinks. They were commonly crafted in brightly colored, less expensive gemstones. Many were made for soldiers serving far from home, and this inspired a tradition of sending sweetheart brooches to girlfriends, wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers. A good example is this gilded 9ct gold Grey Lynn Returned Services stick pin with a military helmet form relief and ‘Grey Lynn’ monogram.